West Chester veering off the Miami 2 Miami trail connector

West Chester is considering if the township should participate in the proposed $17.8 million — an estimated $13.6 million would be the township’s estimated share — plan to build a multi-modal trail through the township, connecting an existing Great Miami River trail network to the Little Miami River trail system. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

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West Chester is considering if the township should participate in the proposed $17.8 million — an estimated $13.6 million would be the township’s estimated share — plan to build a multi-modal trail through the township, connecting an existing Great Miami River trail network to the Little Miami River trail system. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

West Chester trustees may use federal grant funds for Smith Road path connector not Miami 2 Miami trail project.

The lines between an approved capital improvement project for a Smith Road multi-modal trail, the $17.8 million Miami 2 Miami connector project and a federal grant have gotten a little blurred recently in West Chester Twp., but officials say the direction is now clear.

Talk at the township in recent weeks has been about how or even if the township should participate in the proposed $17.8 million — an estimated $13.6 million would be the township’s estimated share — plan to build a multi-modal trail through the township, connecting an existing Great Miami River trail network to the Little Miami River trail system.

RELATED: West Chester nixes high-priced bike path but proposes alternative

The trustees have balked at even pieces of the price.

“I stand firm on my belief that that is something the trustees really shouldn’t be voting on, it should be on the ballot as a referendum for the people to decide if the people of West Chester want to spend that,” Trustee Mark Welch said during a work session on Tuesday. “The cost of the trails from West Chester Road right there at Muhlhauser and on through comes to $9.8 million, that’s a big gulp for me.”

The purpose of the work session was to discuss whether the township should apply for a $750,000 federal grant to support an already approved capital improvement project to create a multi-use path on Smith Road from Ohio 747 to the new roundabout at Beckett Road and an existing trail that heads south to the downtown area. The confusion set in because that pathway piece was also part of an alternate route Welch proposed during an earlier discussion about the Miami 2 Miami trail project.

Welch has suggested it makes more sense to take the trail from the Trinity Pub — where the Great Miami trail terminates now — up Ohio 747 to the proposed Smith Road east-west connector, than to go through an industrial area through downtown to link up to the Mason trail network, as the proposal suggests.

There is a pool of money available through the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI) — federal gas tax money — the township can tap into, if their grant application is approved. The local match for the grant is 20 percent or $150,000. A couple weeks ago staff and the organizers behind the Miami 2 Miami Trail proposed the township apply for the grant to help pay for part of that project.

MORE: What is the Miami 2 Miami trail connector project?

At that time Aaron Wiegand, the township’s community development director, said he didn’t want anyone to get sticker shock from the estimated bottom line.

“These are preliminary estimates so I don’t want anyone to jump out at the main number here,” Wiegand said. “This is going to take a lot of trips to the buffet to fill our plate and multiple grant applications over a number of years. But if you don’t have a plan you won’t get anywhere in this world.”

Now the township is instead considering applying for the grant to pay for the Smith Road connector, an estimated $800,000 project. Township Administrator Larry Burks said the trustees will be voting Tuesday on a grant application for the Smith Road project.

Trustee Ann Becker has resisted the grant application from the beginning because she says the federal government is broke and should not be paying for local bike path projects.

Welch said he has no interest in tapping the federal government for money it doesn’t have, but this money is from the gas tax, specifically earmarked for the FAST (Fix America’s Surface Transportation) Act, five-year federal program.

“I am not for raiding a federal government that is in debt,” he said. “But this is money from the gas tax, it is money from the $18.04 tax we all pay… It’s a silo, it’s sitting there, this is already down at OKI.”

Aside from the federal grant aspect, Becker has told the Journal-News and reiterated at the meeting this week she feels this whole issue has been rushed, to meet the June 1 grant deadline.

She said she knows the Smith Road connector has been on the table for a while, but she hasn’t seen any cogent arguments supporting this project as a priority for federal money.

“I feel like we haven’t really prioritized this,” she said. “If we did a federal grant, is this the best use of the money. Should we have done something somewhere else. Is there a better point of connectivity, or is this just the project we had in the drawer so we pulled it out and now we do it. There are no priorities on this, there were no decisions made, there was no vetting.”

Trustee Lee Wong was not at the meeting, but he has always been a staunch advocate for bike paths.

As for the Miami 2 Miami project, Welch said that topic needs further study, possibly by a special committee. Burks said he will not be making any recommendations on the Miami 2 Miami project anytime soon, but he favors Welch’s idea.

“The exact path and the barriers haven’t been addressed yet in the Miami 2 Miami Trail…,” he told the Journal-News. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

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